PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- A specific type of asthma medication used during pregnancy may be linked to an increased risk for autism, according to a recent study at Drexel University.
Researchers found ß-2-andrenergic receptor agonist drugs, or B2ARs, used to relax a person's bronchial passages, can cross the placenta and reach the fetus, which they said has unknown effects on the brain of the child.
The study could pose a challenge for women with asthma who plan to get pregnant, researchers said.
"This study adds to a body of recent research suggesting that medications used for certain common health conditions like asthma, when taken in pregnancy, may influence a newborn's neurodevelopment," Dr. Craig Newschaffer, a professor at the Drexel University, said in a press release.
For the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers reviewed records from Denmark's health and population registers for children born between 1997 and 2006, identifying 5,200 cases of autism spectrum disorder and 52,000 controls who did not have autism.
Researchers reported 3.7 percent of children diagnosed with autism had mothers who used the drugs during pregnancy, and 2.9 percent of mothers whose children were not diagnosed with autism used the drugs.
There was no difference in effect if women used B2ARs in the first, second, or third trimester; increased risk was seen when the drugs were used at any point in a pregnancy.
The researchers said uncontrolled asthma poses risks to both the mother and fetus, and less than 1 percent of the autism diagnoses in Denmark could be attributed to the asthma drugs. Still, they said caution should be taken and further research done not only with asthma drugs but others as well.
"Since the teratogenic [an agent which could cause development issues in a fetus] potential of most drugs with respect to neurodevelopmental outcomes is generally understudied, I would hope my research would encourage more researchers to explore prescription drug use as a potential autism spectrum disorder risk factor," said Dr. Nicole Gidaya, a researcher at Drexel University.